Skip to main content

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers
4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters

I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.


Steed: Had a spot of bother with the natives. A full-blown savage, with a very unfriendly disposition.
Mrs Peel: Oh, come now, Steed.

It’s also an episode big on the colonial critique, not to mention innocently dipping into the conspiratorial waters of spreading diseases (and testing vaccines) in third world countries. The teaser is a particular good one, as a man (Peter Thomas), pursued through thick jungle, ends up with an arrow in his back, collapsing near a sign that reads “London 23 Miles”.


Mrs Peel investigates signs of a Kalayan tribal influence (the Shirenzai symbol, “a more dread form of voodoo”) while Steed gets personal, calling on Colonel Rawlings (Bill Fraser, General Grugger in Meglos), who lives inside a biodome-equivalent jungle. 


Promoting suggestions of the supernatural is Professor Swain (Liam Redmond), whose misdirections (“He sleeps the sleep of the living dead. There’s no awakening him. Not by any means I have at my command”) mask his own dastardly doings, since he’s the ringleader of a plot to take back control of Kalaya by introducing tse tse flies carrying a strain of sleeping sickness that will render the whole country paralysed within a week.


Steed: He’s got a nice line in au pairs.
Trent: He’s got a whole tribe of them out there.

Swain’s supported by game hunter Simon Trent (James Villiers), given to making threatening allusions (“This time of day, if I see something moving, it’s all I can do to stop myself from shooting it”) and detaining Steed at the residence on account of the hazardous rivers during monsoon season. 


Indulging the delusions of an eccentric becomes an increasingly common trope of the series, one we previously saw with Sir Horace Winslip in The Gravediggers. Colonel Rawlings is a Blimpish type withdrawn into his own oblivious world (“He couldn’t survive the winds of change, softened his brain. He still thinks he’s there”) while his assistants get up to no good under his nose.


Trent: Tomorrow we fly back to Kalaya, Steed. We’re going back. Back. And we’re taking this with us. Thousands of the little beasties, that’s all we need. And once they’re release in a climate like that…
Steed: They breed like flies?
Trent: Yes, like flies. They breed like flies.
Swain: The whole country will be paralysed in a week, and then we take over. A pretty plan, don’t you think?


Indeed, during the finale, while an alluring Emma arrives impersonating Lala (Esther Anderson) with a flower in her hair, the Colonel wanders around making irrelevant comments about a notional uprising (“Take them some coloured beads. Always seems to help”; “By Jove, the natives are restless tonight, A firm hand, that’s what’s needed. A firm hand”).

 

Not that the rest of it is exactly played straight, with Steed swinging in on a vine to Emma’s rescue (“Me Steed”; “Me Emma”) and putting paid to Trent after confidently telling him, in 007 fashion, “Mauser, single barrel. You’ve had your five”. Subsequently grappling with him, a further shot goes off (“My arithmetic is shocking!”) Villiers makes for a low key but effective villain, Redmond less so, meaning that some of his nefarious lines fall a bit flat (“All that work almost spoiled because of you. That arouses me to violence”).


Notable in the episode are two persons of colour, the aforementioned Anderson and Paul Danquah as Razafi, Kalayan Secret Service. The former has little in the way of dialogue, but the latter makes a strong impression when he reveals his undercover status to Steed. I hadn’t realised the series’ predominant absence of ethnic actors was intentional (“Clemens explains that the success of ‘THE AVENGERS’ is due to its element of fantasy. And all the taboos come under the heading of social realities…”) It’s a thin argument, particularly since it is broken on several occasions (more recently, Brian True-May tried out a similar line with Midsommer Murders).


Steed: I once shot a bull elephant myself.
Outfitter: Really? What did you use?
Steed: F8 at 500ths of a second, and a small roll of film.

Amusing interludes include Steed calling on Tropic Outfitters early on, precise in their knowledge (“My goodness, sir. This is a relic. One of our old mid-tropical five-button broad weaves”) and up with the sales patter (“No matter where you are, steaming jungle, burning bush or arid desert, we always get your order through”).


Mrs Peel: What’s missing?
Steed: Colonel Rawling’s file. Fortunately, he overlooked my cucumber sandwiches.
Mrs Peel: Oh, very good.

So too, after his altercation with a Kalayan native, Steed is sanguine about the damage done (above). There are some nice edits, notably Emma awaking from leafing through a book on tribal rituals and seeing a “real” tribesman. Steed plays what looks like an intense game of cards with the Colonel, only for it to be revealed as Snap! The laugh-off is merely so-so, however (Steed and Emma in a rowing boat, she telling him to start the other engine, he beginning to paddle in response).













Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I'm a sort of travelling time expert.

Doctor Who Season 12 – Worst to Best
Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.